Afghan Troop Withdrawal to Be Gradual

WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama's national security adviser said the U.S. wouldn't pull all its military forces out of Afghanistan in 2011, calling the president's timetable for withdrawal from the country "a ramp" and "not a cliff."

"We are here to make sure that Afghanistan succeeds. We can't want this any more than the Afghans do," Retired Gen. James Jones said on CNN's "State of the Union." "We're going to be in the region for a long time,"

Obama last week announced that he was committing at least 30,000 additional U.S. troops to Afghanistan -- with a plan to begin withdrawing them in July 2011 -- in an effort to reverse gains made by the Taliban and help boost the government in Kabul. 

Many Republicans have criticized his announcement of a timetable, calling it arbitrary and saying it could potentially benefit U.S. enemies, by giving them an indication of how long they would have to hold out before the U.S. troops departed.

Gen. Jones, responding to such criticism, said the planned ramp-up in troop levels in Afghanistan would have "a very, very positive effect on any momentum the Taliban claims to have."

"2011 is not a cliff; it's a ramp," he said. "It's when … we'll be able to see very visible progress and be able to make a shift."

Gen. Jones didn't specify how long a withdrawal might last.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, appearing on NBC's "Meet the Press," said, "We're not talking about an exit strategy or a drop-dead deadline," "What we're talking about is an assessment that ... we can begin a transition, a transition to hand off responsibility to the Afghan forces."

Defense Secretary Robert Gates, also speaking on "This Week," said he didn't consider the president's Afghanistan announcement "an exit strategy" but rather "a transition." 

He said the president's timetable wasn't arbitrary, but was based on what "our military leaders believe will give us time to know that our strategy is working."

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